The Ballad of Hilda and Oscar (Continued)

"They want to take him away... We haven't spent more than a few nights apart in 63 years..." Hilda's voice is trailing off. I feel a knot form in my throat.

A lot of my coworkers are not the hand holding type. They say that getting too attached to your patients is a bad thing. They say that getting too emotionally involved can end your career and reduce you to twice-weekly psychiatrist visits.

I can't help it. I'm a hand-holder.

When I see someone truly hurting, physically or emotionally, it's in my nature to want to help if I can. Even if it's just to hold their hand, stroke their hair, or listen. It's part of being human. I believe that most of my patients really just want someone to hear them.

I pull my purple gloves off and place my hand over hers. "So, have you talked to Oscar about this?" I give her a gentle squeeze.

"I tried... He just won't listen to a word of it." Hilda retrieves a tissue from her pocket. Her sweater reminds me of one my Grandma used to wear, with Christmas Trees and snow covered hills embroidered into it. The tissue has soaked up its fair share of tears today. I reach across the table and grab the box so she can have a fresh one.

"Thank You Dear."

"Ma'am, you're very welcome. What about your children, have they talked to him yet?"

Hilda shakes her head. "Jeff and Jeannie are coming up this weekend. They're living in Pennsylvania now." Hilda wipes her tears away, but more follow. One by one they fall down her pink cheeks.

Partner pokes his head around the corner, "Epi? Chair time is in twenty five minutes, we're going to be late."

I nod and turn back to Hilda, squeezing her hand one more time. "Ma'am, will you be okay? Is there a friend I can call for you? Or the Social Worker here?"

"I'll be okay. They're going to come today when he gets back from his treatment. I guess I should start packing his things. Do you think they'll allow him to have some personal items? Like our Wedding picture, or some flowers?"

My heart hurts for her. It's hard not to put myself in her position. "I'm sure it won't be a problem." I get to my feet. I don't want to leave her, but the clock is ticking and dispatch is already paging us for an update. I don't know what else to say to her, She's sitting at that table, She's confused and sad, and heartbroken.

All I want to do is give her a hug. "Ma'am, we have to get Oscar over to Regional, they get pretty upset with us when we're late."

"You go on ahead. And please, call me Hilda. None of this Ma'am silliness. You kids are like family to us. Don't forget your cookies now." Hilda smiles. I feel a little better.

As my Partner and I are rolling the stretcher out to our truck, Oscar pipes up. "What were you two gals talking about in there? Did you get my beef jerky? My Hildy, she can talk a wildcat's ear off."

I hold up the zip lock bag with the jerky in it. "It's right here, Oscar." I hand it to him and he clutches it possessively.

"You didn't eat any, did you?" He's accusing more than asking.

"Oscar, I promise, if there's any missing my Partner ate it." I laugh, looking back at Partner. He looks shocked that I joke with patients. "It's okay, Partner. Hey, where's the cookies?"

His look of disappointment says it all. "I forgot them. I guess the next crew will score a snack."

Oscar and my partner are loaded in the back of the truck. It's starting to snow. I have a feeling Oscar might be a little late.

Oscar and Hilda settled into their South End home shortly after he had returned from the war. The same neighborhood that Hilda was raised in. They bought a house two doors down from where she was born.

She was soon pregnant.

Jeffrey was their first child, followed by Gwen and Rita, the twins, and the baby of the bunch, Frank. Hilda never failed to catch me up on their lives.

She never worked a day in her life outside of the home. She was a firm believer that her primary job was her children.

"You know, Oscar worked three jobs in the beginning. Thank the Lord he was able to get in over at the Jeep plant, or I don't know what would have happened. No one can be expected to keep up that pace. He was working so hard for us."

I nodded. "That must have been very hard on him."

Hilda's smile was fading, "It was. He just kept drinking until he got sick."

"So, who else is left to go home?" Partner was getting antsy. He wasn't used to working on a day car. As a Paramedic, even a new one, he was used to something more exciting than constant transfer runs. I wanted to tell him that's what he gets for picking up a day car shift, but I bit my tongue.

"What day is it? Wednesday... That means Oscar, Jose, the Guy from Arbors, and the two at Maumee." I rub my temples, it's been a long day. "...And Unit 27 and 34 went out to the East side, so that just leaves Oscar and Jose."

The radio traffic picks up. "Unit 26... Two-Six... Head on over to Regional Dialysis, take a patient back to Lutheran Assisted Living, time out 1640."

I squeal like a little kid, "We're going to get Os-car... We're going to get Os-car!" I do a little dance from the passenger seat.

Partner already thinks I've lost my mind. "I've never seen someone so excited over a tote."

"Mr. Medic, you committed a cardinal sin. You left the damn cookies."


We load Oscar up and begin the twenty minute trip back to his apartment. Partner takes patient care, and I can hear him doing a little bonding of his own in the back. Apparently Oscar and Partner share a love of all things Jeep related.

The snow has stopped and the sun, even though it's setting, finally makes an appearance.

We walk through the long hallways of the facility, turning here, dodging this drug car there, doing our best to not bump Oscar's elbows.

Finally we find their apartment. It couldn't be any farther from the entrance of the building. The only room further is a broom closet.

Hilda's neighbor opens their door before we can knock. I recognize her instantly. Her husband had been a patient of mine a few times at the last company I worked for.

"Well Hello Mrs.--"

Mrs. Eaton cuts me off abruptly. "Hilda is sick... Come take a look at her for me?"

We wheel Oscar into the living room. "Sure, we'll take a look at her." Partner says. "Let's get Oscar into his bed first," his tone bordering on impatient.

It's closing in on the end of the shift, and we're both exhausted. "We'll be right in there, go sit with her for a minute and we'll be right there." She follows his instructions.

We work on getting Oscar into his bed. Partner is rolling his eyes and fluffing a pillow when it happens.

"OH my God Hilda??? HILDA????" Mrs Eaton, the neighbor is screaming from the kitchen.

I will NEVER forget the sound of her voice. She was terrified. I was terrified.

Partner flew out of Oscar's room. I raised the rail on Oscar's bed and ran after him. My heart was pounding out of my chest.

On the floor of the kitchen crumpled like a rag doll was Hilda. She was grey. She was unconscious. She looked... dead.

"Jesus Christ." Partner was shaking her shoulders. "Ma'am? Are you okay? He instinctively checks her airway and for a pulse while I stare with my jaw on the floor.

"Epi, no pulse."

All I could do was stare at him. I was frozen. NO pulse? She's not the sick one. HE is the sick one. She's the one who makes cookies for us.

"EPI. COMPRESSIONS. NOW!!!" He yells at me. He's not requesting, He's ordering. He reaches for the portable radio and starts rambling to dispatch about having "Emergency Traffic".

I drop to my knees and place my hands together right in her nipple line. I pause for a second. I've never done compressions on a human before. I start pushing. I push hard. I hear and feel a crack. Every hair on my body stands on end. I pull my hands up.

Wait, that's supposed to happen.

I go back to doing compressions. I can't look at her face. Another crunch. This time I don't stop. I just count. I don't know why I'm counting.

Mrs. Eaton is sobbing. I can hear Oscar yelling from the bedroom. I keep pushing. The horrible crunching noise has stopped. I stare at the wall while I push. I truly believe if I can't see her face, if I don't look at her, if I don't see her as a person, I'll be okay.

Partner appears with the BVM. The nervousness I saw in him over the course of the shift has vanished from his face. He's focused. "Stop, Epi."

I pull my hands up. He delivers two breaths with the BVM. I start pushing again.

"Do you need to switch?" Partner asks me. I shake my head no.

"Who's coming?" I ask. I'm starting to sweat. My hair is sticking to my face. It occurs to me that I'm actually worried about which ALS crew is responding. It seemed odd to me somehow.

Partner gives her two more breaths. "Four is coming, and the Captain. You need to switch?"

I'm good for another couple minutes. My heart is pounding, I'm soaked in sweat. The muscles in my arms are raw. I just can't bring myself to stop. I look around Hilda's apartment and see the plate of christmas cookies on the kitchen table. I shake away memories of her reminding us to take the cookies.

After what seems like an hour but was in reality about six minutes, our assistance Unit Four comes running down the hallway. Favorite Medic and his partner the Pinup have the LP, Airway bag and drug bag. They start talking to Partner.

My arms are getting tired. I start to panic. I look up at Pinup, who is one of my favorite EMT's.

"Jesus, EPI... Let me take over." She all but pushes me aside. I sit back and she takes over. I feel defeated. I curse my recently healed broken humerus. For the first time I look at Hilda's face.

I look at Hilda. The adoring Wife of Oscar. The doting mother of four, Grandmother of 7, and Great Grandmother of 2. I watch as Favorite Medic rips Hilda's sweater and shirt off and cuts through her bra. I sit on the floor with my back against her cabinets and try to not think about Oscar and where he's going to end up. I don't realize it, but I'm crying.


Later on that night Partner tells me that I was crying while I did compressions. He's the first person to tell me that I'm too nice to do this job. I get too emotionally invested in my Patients and their families. Maybe he's right.

I'd love to be able to tell you that Hilda made it. I'd love to tell you that she's alive and kicking, and taking care of Oscar, and still spoiling the EMS crews and showing off pictures of her Great Grandbabies. I'd love to tell you that she taught me how to knit.

But you know I can't.


Anonymous said...

Very moving...and its okay to cry...when we coded a man who died, the RN was balling. It just means you care and frankly if I were going I would want someone to care. You just need to find a way to release it, which I am sure this blog helps you do.

Anonymous said...

I can still remember the first time I did compressions on a human...its quite an experience that the videos and dolls really don't prepare you for.

Sounds like you did your job. You know that CPR has an extremely low conversion rate.

Take solace that the decision for her passing was not made by you. You were there to make the conditions right should the Big Electron decide it wasn't her time.

Chris said...

Epi, thanks for sharing this. I can't imagine what it must be like, doing it at all, let alone to someone you know.

Keep at it

Anonymous said...

The ones that aren't hand holders are the reason I "retired" after 10 years as a paramedic. Don't ever forget why you are doing what you do. The ones who have are burnt out as hell.

Evil Lunch Lady said...

Wow, very moving story! That's what I'm afraid of, getting too attatched, but that's what makes us humans and not robots.

Keep up the great work, us humans need you!

Odie said...

I've worked with hardcore street medics, i've worked with meek timid newbies (like myself at one point) but the best medics i've worked with are the ones who arent afraid to invest themselves in the job, sure you put yourself out there and you put yourself at risk a little. But you also commit yourself more to the job i think.

Bravo, Epi, Bravo...

My condolances on your loss, and yes it truly is a loss. Just keep your head up and well keep on keepin' on.

I love reading your posts...

Beaker said...

Aw man, you made me cry at work... which I don't do.

I love the fact that you care. I want medics to care about me and my family when they take care of us. Just make sure you have a healthy coping mechanism for the pain and hurt you'll experience and I hope the good moments make up for the bad.

Anonymous said...

Epi, I work in the field of 911 "can we help you". I've been reading your blog now for some time and let me tell you. I totally understand "the emotional side" of things. It's hard at times not to get that way. Doing your job,doing it the way you were taught and not reaching the cold "I don't care" mode will make you a stronger person. Kudos to you and those of you who do give a darn bout their patients well being.

Fyremandoug said...

Epi you brought back an old ghost for me. Wow that was tuff.

MedicMatthew said...

Epi, thank you for sharing this story. I too am a hand-holder, I can't help it, it's just the way that it is. I don't think that you're too "nice" to do this job, I think this line of work needs more people who actually do care about their patients.

Be well & be safe.

Medic61 said...

Oh, shit. You know I share your hand-holding trait...and I can't imagine how it is to do compressions on someone you know.
For me it was always nameless, brand new people to my life. I met them when they were dead, and sometimes I got to bring them back to life. But wow, Epi, that's rough.
Love you, girl.

Anonymous said...

YOU are the most caring person I know. And I know a lot of people.

I hope this was as therapeutic as I wanted it to be.

I just wish you'd realize what an impact you make on people. Now answer your phone.

Donna said...

I'm a few weeks away from getting my EMR license (which, here, allows me to do transfers with a full paramedic) ... and I can't decide if readings things like this makes me doubt if this is the career for me... or want it even more.

Thanks for writing that.

Rogue Medic said...

This is not something that you can get completely away from by leaving EMS, which some people will do after this kind of pain.

People die. We just see a lot sicker people more often than much of the rest of the people we know. Some of those who die will be wonderful people. They are glad for the opportunity to spend their time with someone who cares for them, rather than someone just punching a clock. Not to belittle your pain, but imagine working in a burn unit or on a cancer ward. Perhaps a pediatric cancer ward.

Some people deal with more pain much more often than we do.

You may find that this is not the right job for you, but you will probably not be happy in a profession that does not involve caring, which comes with the possibility of loss and pain.

It hurts. You accept the pain or try to build a wall between yourself and those who might hurt you for caring too much about them.

If you leave EMS to get away from this, you just decrease the frequency of these pains. You can't prevent them completely.

You will hurt from this for a long time. I think it helps to make you understand why you do the things you do. Maybe you decide that you are more comfortable in a position, where the people you get attached to are a bit healthier than those you encounter on a regular basis in EMS.

Buttercup: You mock my pain.
Westley: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Those who can hurt us the most are also the ones most worth living for.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog by way of AD. I must say this was very moving. Thank you for beening a caring EMT and I hope that you realize there are those of us that do appreciate what you do and that you care.
Hope you don't mind if I keep stopping by.
Linda in Miszippi

Rising Rainbow said...

You know that they say you can't feel the "good feelings" if you don't allow yourself to feel the "bad" ones. Putting up the walls that would protect your from caring would really cost you in the long run. It's not just the patients who benefit from hand holders like you......but I suspect you know that. Keep up being human. It suits you.

AlisonH said...

To quote Rachel Remen, joy and pain are flip sides of the same coin. And you will never lose the joy of the memory of the grace of that good woman. Thank you for taking such good care of her and her husband in the ways that mattered by far the most.

rookie bebe said...

I cried after every arrest we worked. It was many arrests before I got to actually do anything. I was a newbie and there were always 10 people there. So I just got everything. My medic one night kept asking if I was okay. I was cleaning the aftermath in the back of the truck and trying not to just fall on the floor bawling. He finally stopped and all he said was "Sometimes the best job is the go for person. That can be the most important job." Everything about that call was hard emotionally on me.

No way can anyone prepare us for the tidal wave of emotions we go through seeing people in pain.

My first death was my first week ever on an ambulance, and I was third riding with two medic preceptors. The lady died a natural death in her sleep. But she was only 63 - two years older than my mom. One of the medics took me outside and just let me cry on his shoulder.

Stacey said...

Working an arrest on someone you know is the worst thing ever. normal arrests don't bother me but working someone you know is horrible. Usually during an arrest I distance myself enough that it dosn't really bother me but when you are working somone you know you can't do that.
I hope I am always a hand holder. I am a paramedic right now because of a "hand holder" who treated me when I was 12. Some people pride themselves in being jerks to patients but without those patients we wouldn't have jobs. It dosn't take any extra effort to be nice to people. Keep it up.

Don Gwinn said...

You're not wrong to care about a good woman who's dying. Fuck that.

Anonymous said...

I always get attached to my patients and during a code I "turn off" the feelings so i can function but I let my feelings out afterwards.I thought I wouldn't get so attached as I gained experience and I've been a critical care nurse almost 30 years but I still get attached. I still care deeply about my patients and I know that it wears on me.I wouldn't have it any other way though. I still find it incredibly gratifying after all this time(thank God something is with all the changes in health care).
Your post is very moving,thanks for reminding me about how I felt early on. I hope you can find a way to balance what you do so that it doesn't wear on you so much. We need caring,compassionate people like you.

Alaina said...

Wow--this is beautiful writing. The ending gave me major goosebumps.

Bernice said...

Thank you for sharing.

murse c said...

We would not have gotten into this crazy line of work if we didn't have a tad bit of humanity in us. I see so many in the health care field give up on patients even if we've seen a thousand deaths, we SHOULD be the last bastion of hope. Take lugs like Ambulance Driver (that's how I found you), I don't know him from a man in the moon but I would bet that his bark is bigger than is bite and is nothing but a big ol' teddy bear. 2 or 3 of my fire buddies are my size, 6'2"/250 and woundn't/couldn't harm a flea. God bless you Epi. If were the one on the deck, I would want you as my primary responder. Adrenaline junkies be damned.

Ian said...

Please Please do not lose your compassion for your patients.

that is what the Job is all about.

keep up the great work.

Cheating Death said...

Epi-Somehow I managed to miss this part of the post. All I can say is "wow". I've typed up 4 responses and nothing seems to fit, so there you have it.